A Story for All Ages: The Rise of the StoryWalk®
July 29, 2019
Gwen Ayler and Katy Bauml, Peoria Public Library
“Reading is to the mind what exercise is to the body,” goes the quote by the late poet, playwright, and politician, Joseph Addison.
The StoryWalk® Project marries the two perfectly, bringing libraries and families into nature in a simple, yet magical, way that is being adopted worldwide. Today, more than a decade after it was the brainchild of a Vermont public health employee and her librarian friend, StoryWalk® is implemented in all 50 states and more than a dozen countries, including Bermuda, Canada, England, Germany, Malaysia, Pakistan, Russia and South Korea.
The Peoria Public Library and Peoria Park District are among the latest to create a sweet respite from the hustle and bustle with Peoria’s first StoryWalk®. “I just thought this would be a great thing for the families to do together, keep them moving and reading,” said McClure Branch reference assistant Gwen Ayler, who spearheaded the project, along with Lakeview Branch reference assistant Katy Bauml. “Most of the families who come to the park visit the library at the exact same time, the same day, so I just thought it would be a great package deal.” Added Bauml, “We thought this would be a fun activity to bring to the Peoria area to help promote literacy while also allowing families to exercise.”
Nestled under shade trees along a winding paved path, Peoria’s StoryWalk® is located in Columbia Park, a pocket park surrounded by neighborhoods in the city’s core and just steps from the historic 1930s-era McClure Branch of Peoria Public Library. Bunny’s Book Club by Annie Silvestro was the first book chosen.
A StoryWalk® can be temporary or permanent. Regardless, the concept is the same: to encourage families to spend time reading and walking through nature, together. Typically, a book is broken down into individual pages, which are then laminated to protect them from the elements and mounted on displays. Each mounted display has one page, encouraging visitors to stroll along the walk to read the entire book. The length of the walk depends on the space available, but a half-mile total distance seems to work well for all ages.
Since its dedication June 5, the walk has been extremely popular, said Barbara Van Auken, a Peoria Public Library board member who lives just blocks away. “They love it,” Van Auken said of her neighbors. “It’s functioning just as we envisioned. You see parents or older siblings walking along with little ones, holding their hands and sometimes holding them up to read.”
Van Auken, as head of the Peoria Public Library’s Community Relations Committee, led the fundraising efforts to secure the $8,500 needed for the StoryWalk® infrastructure and books. The project was then funneled through the library’s Friends, a nonprofit that supports various library programs and needs. “The neatest thing about this is how it was such a true collaboration,” Van Auken said. “From the Peoria Park District, which provided the labor and the land, to the library staff who had the idea, to the library board members who raised the funds.” Indeed, once Ayler and Bauml had worked through the details—everything from the ideal location to the best and copyright-friendly way to display the books—Van Auken said the board raised the funds in less than a month. Each post, which was purchased from Barking Dogs Exhibits, a Wisconsin-based company that specializes in StoryWalk® materials, cost $425 to sponsor. The library board had more sponsors than needed and is currently exploring future StoryWalk® locations at either another Peoria Public Library branch or a Peoria school.
With direction from the original StoryWalk® founders, Ayler and Bauml knew that three copies of each book featured would need to be purchased. Two of the books are used on the StoryWalk® and one is set aside for pages that may need repair. If certain books don’t have enough pages to use all the posts, library staff plans to use the additional space to promote library programs.
Meanwhile, the StoryWalk® at Peoria’s McClure Branch plans to host “Strolling Storytime and Picnic” every other Wednesday during June and July, which coincides with the library’s Summer Reading program. The StoryWalk® book will be changed out before each picnic. The library will provide water and juice boxes and families are encouraged to bring a picnic lunch. After storytime, the library is also providing toys, including jump ropes, chalk, bubbles, and more.
THE START OF THE STORY
In 2007, Anne Ferguson was working as a chronic-disease prevention specialist in Montpelier, VT, tasked with trying to get families to be more active. She had a simple idea: Take the pages from a children’s picture book, attach each one to a stake and line them up along a path for folks to read and enjoy. She ran the idea past her friend, Rachel Senechal, the program and development coordinator for the Kellogg-Hubbard Library in Montpelier, VT, and StoryWalk® was born. Senechal says in the years since its start, they have been “shocked” at how popular this simple concept has been. “Pakistan has StoryWalk®. That surprised me. It is a simple idea, but it’s been a joy seeing how it has been received. We’ve also been really pleased at how installations have been done differently.” Senechal’s library currently has 40 StoryWalk® books that they will loan to other libraries throughout Vermont, and they also purposefully choose some picture-only books. “We found that we had a number of new immigrants in Vermont and that sometimes the parents weren’t able to read so we choose a couple books that don’t have words, which I love. It means they can still connect without that barrier.” Senechal added that they have also had translations done—one by high school Spanish students and another into French by seniors at a local senior center. They tape the translations onto the pages without disturbing the book and violating copyright.
“We used to put up a pad of paper at the end of the StoryWalk® for comments, and one of my favorites was from a man who said, ‘I’m a 50-year-old man, and I know this is supposed to be for kids, but I think it’s fantastic,’” relates Senechal. “That’s a comment that stays with us. It reaches all ages. It doesn’t matter if you’re 3 or 83. As adults, we oftentimes forget about children’s books. They’re magical in many ways.”
A Stroll through Illinois’ StoryWalks®
Chatham Area Public Library
Each year in September, the Chatham Friends of the Parks hosts a Kite Festival at the park down the street from the Chatham Area Public Library. The library has had a presence at the festival for many years, but this year decided to include a StoryWalk® path. Borrowed from Forsyth Public Library, the StoryWalk® path told the story of The Pirates Next Door by Jonny Duddle. The story began outside our tent, meandered, and concluded inside where participants could then work on a craft, chat with a librarian, and choose a special treat or two to take home. According to staff, the inclusion of the StoryWalk® was a wonderful addition to the event in that it encouraged adults and children to move, discuss, experience, and connect to a story together at their own pace. Plus, the event is always scheduled close to International Talk Like a Pirate Day, so that tie-in was really fun. Some of the staff, rumor has it, may have dressed up as pirates. Yaarrr!
Forsyth Public Library
Forsyth Public Library used StoryWalk® as part of their 2018 summer reading program. The theme was “Reading Takes You Everywhere” and StoryWalk® activities were planned for the first and last weekends of summer reading as a way to encourage patrons to “travel” through a book and around our library grounds. The beautiful green space around the library was used to create a path that started at the front door of the library, meandered between trees, and eventually returned to the front door of the library.
For the first StoryWalk® weekend, Forsyth used the children’s picture book From Kalamazoo to Timbuktu! by Harriet Ziefert because it fit their summer theme so perfectly. The characters in the story imagine a journey using a variety of types of transportation. Participants followed the StoryWalk® path with a game card to mark off the transportation styles, then presented it for a prize.
Summer reading wrapped up in August, also known as Arr-gust, International Pirate Month, so they featured The Pirates Next Door by Jonny Duddle. For this event, participants walked the path, then came back to the library to decorate a pirate treasure chest. The story pages were mounted onto portable boards, allowing the path to be changed. Additional stories could also be showcased. Forsyth staff says they will continue to incorporate StoryWalk® activities into future library programs.
Peru Public Library
The Peru Public Library worked in collaboration with a local Boy Scout, Christian Risk, who was seeking Eagle Scout distinction with Peru Scout Troop 123. He wanted to do his Eagle Scout Service Project to help Peru Public in some way because he grew up going there and wanted to give back. The library had wanted to do a StoryWalk® in the past, but did not have funding, so library staff suggested StoryWalk® for his project. He accepted and took the lead—from building the posts from scratch to working with the city of Peru to make sure the posts met ADA requirements to raising all the money for the project. The library is responsible for changing out the books once a month, but they let Christian choose the first 12 books. Christian recorded his entire process and gave it to the library’s local history department so others can follow his path.
For more information on how to start your own StoryWalk®, visit https://www.kellogghubbard.org/storywalk.